Introduction to the Online Edition

Voices Across Time is a tool to help educators shine a light on the diversity of the people in the parts of the world now known as the United States of America. It enables teachers to harness the power of music to educate students about the diverse regions, cultures, ideas, beliefs, and institutions that have shaped the human experience in these places.

Throughout the history of colonial America and the United States, musics of different peoples have sometimes fused into something new—sometimes naturally, other times through coercion—that some commentators have celebrated as uniquely American. But this notion of people harmoniously living together in a sort of utopian melting pot does not fully account for America’s rich history. For, through their musics, people have not only come together but also fiercely competed with each other, sought to drown out oppositional voices, or simply coexisted with little exchange or influence across social divisions. Voices Across Time thus provides educators with a window into different aspects of social life, from the forces that bring us together to those that drive us apart.

There is a lot of music in Voices Across Time, yet we have not curated its contents with the aim of providing a comprehensive overview of musical artists and styles. Instead, we investigate immigration, migration, class, group and individual identity, regionalism, political ideology, social problems, war, religion, science, and technology in order to identify examples of musics that respond to and shape these aspects of American life. Although we might occasionally lament the absence of a favorite artist or song, the guiding principles of Voices Across maximize its usefulness in a broad array of teaching situations, from primary to secondary and higher education, and from social studies to music, English, technology, physical education, and any other subject that engages with US history or culture.

Voices Across Time is not a curriculum. It is a resource with curated materials—background information, timelines, songs, and suggested discussion questions and activities—to help educators enhance their teaching with the integration of music. We also provide teaching tools and strategies to help educators attain their classroom goals.

Since its inception, Voices Across Time’s contextual information about songs and historical periods has been written by expert musicologists and cultural historians. We also work with education specialists to develop discussion questions and activities that educators might choose to use in their classrooms. This content has been created with national and state standards in mind, but it is designed to be generally applicable and adaptable to meet specific teaching needs.

To maximize the usefulness of Voices Across Time, we have curated the songs in two different ways. If your teaching is concerned with history, you can browse the songs within the ten historical periods that we have identified, which correspond with the chapters of most middle- and high-school US history textbooks. If your teaching is more concerned with specific topics from across different historical periods, you can browse the songs in the seven song categories we have created: United/Divided, War & Peace, Work, Home, Moving Along, Faith & Ideals, and Science & Technology. We also recognize that you may have your own unique teaching needs, and we encourage you to use our keyword search and raw data (which you can browse and organize in different ways) to help you find content that meets your teaching goals.

This online version of Voices Across Time builds on the printed edition, which was first published in 2004 under founding project director Deane L. Root and has served as the text for NEH summer institutes and workshops across the country. As we make new discoveries and develop better tools for understanding cultures and history, knowledge about the United States evolves. We are excited that the online environment of Voices Across Time will now allow us to regularly update and expand its content to better represent the full spectrum of viewpoints and experiences in the lands that now comprise the United States. Deciphering the messages communicated to us by voices from across time will always be an ongoing, iterative process.

—Christopher Lynch, 2020

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Voices Across Time is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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